Master Chorale Plays Carnegie Hall
under John Rutter's Baton

With less than three years of "practice" as the joke goes, the Connecticut Master Chorale found it’s way to the stage of Carnegie Hall on Easter Sunday, performing John Rutter’s magnificent Magnificat under the direction of Maestro Rutter himself.

In those three years since Tina Johns Heidrich founded the Danbury-based group, the Master Chorale has accepted performance invitations for many venues including West Point, Ridgefield Symphony, Nutmeg Opera and various locations around the state. But none compares to the pinnacle that is Carnegie Hall.

John Rutter and the Master Chorale
Connecticut Master Chorale with John Rutter at Rehearsal

"It was a double thrill," said Heidrich, "Working with John Rutter was equally exciting as being at Carnegie. He has created several masterworks and is one of my favorite composers." Maestro Rutter spent three days preparing the chorus, shaping vowels, adjusting tempos, and energetically perfecting the sound. He spent a great amount of time eliciting the emotions and attitudes to be projected in each of the movements and explaining his reasoning behind many of the passages. "This insight can only be provided by the composer himself and adds an additional dimension to the presentation. We all learned a lot, not just about the Magnificat but also about Rutter himself."

Rutter with Heidrich
John Rutter with Tina Johns Heidrich

"This was an absolutely phenomenal experience," said Dawn Willis who sings soprano. "Working with Mr. Rutter, however, was truly the pinnacle. To have him explain each movement in such clear and moving detail was so wonderful - I was able to feel this music so much."

Rutter traveled from his native England specifically for the Easter concert and several former Chorale members traveled from as far away as Chicago and Houston just to participate. "Everyone in the group was absolutely thrilled!" said Nancy Lavers of Danbury who sings alto in the Chorale and also serves as Public Relations Director. "I haven't words sufficient to express the thrill of singing under the direction of John Rutter! What a totally dynamic, delightful, humble, approachable, sweet man he is! To sing under his direction was more than a joy, it was a blessing."

Rutter receives the Polo Shirt
Rutter receives a Master Chorale polo shirt

John Rutter was extremely gracious while working with the chorus. He enthusiastically signed autographs on concert posters and everyone’s music scores, and stood for untold snapshots with individuals and groups. Every such request was happily accommodated and he flashed his grin widely when presented with a polo shirt emblazoned with the Connecticut Master Chorale logo.

Bass David Zitzman remarked "Rutter is a genius of melody, harmony and the setting of sacred texts. Singing at Carnegie Hall was a wonderful experience." "I’m still flying high from the weekend and the performance!" said Margie Aldrich of Danbury, who sings alto.

At rehearsal Rutter made full use of the very large podium, running from end to end first to cue the altos, then the sopranos, with each entrance marked with a precise slice or jab demonstrating not just the timing but also the proper emphasis and emotion to be delivered. At the performance he had somewhat less room but exacted every last drop of passion nonetheless.

John Rutter Rehearses the Chorus
John Rutter

The 55-voice Connecticut Master Chorale comprised the largest portion of the 180-voice Rutter chorus with the balance made up of other select groups from around the country. The combined groups on stage made for an interesting mix of colors as each wore their individual standard performance garb of gray vests or white shirts or purple skirts, but they became a single chorus as their voices unified, filling the huge space with the magnificent masterwork. The New England Symphonic Ensemble accompanied the chorus.

The grand hall was packed and the crowd responded with an immediate roar and a standing ovation, with several curtain calls by Rutter and the soloist. And the singers walked off stage with their feet barely touching the floor. Tenor Seth Lefferts of Bethel said "It was an incredible experience! I have been floating about eight miles high ever since." Tom Zarecki, also a tenor who lives in Bethel said "It was one of the highlights of my life."

"When I spoke to John Rutter after the concert," said Heidrich, "He thanked me many times for providing him with such wonderful singers. He remarked how the Master Chorale contributed 'majorly' to the success of the performance. He was very pleased and most gracious," she said, "and I sincerely hope we will have this wonderful opportunity again."

Rutter and Heidrich share a laugh
Rutter and Heidrich share a laugh

Concert organizer MidAmerica Productions normally requires an ensemble to audition or be specifically recommended by one of the more than 100 guest conductors who have appeared in their Carnegie Hall concert series. However, in the case of the Connecticut Master Chorale, MidAmerica found the Chorale.

Terre Johnson, Conductor in Residence of MidAmerica came across the Master Chorale’s website and listened to several of the music clips from their concerts, in particular their performance of Rutter’s Magnificat. Considering those clips to be an official audition, Johnson contacted Heidrich and invited the Master Chorale to perform under Rutter’s baton. "The Master Chorale provided the mature core of singers, whose expertise propelled the assembled festival chorus toward a great musical success," quoted Johnson. In fact, Johnson hopes the Master Chorale will make a future appearance at Carnegie Hall.

John Rutter, born in London in 1945, is one of the most popular and accomplished composers of choral music anywhere in the world today. His compositions encompass large and small scale choral works, various orchestra and instrumental pieces, a piano concerto, operas, and music for television. Magnificat is one of his most recent larger choral works and has been performed many times in Britain, the USA, and in a growing number of other countries.

Below is a score of John Rutter's Magnificat autographed at Carnegie Hall.
"For Tina with every good wish, John Rutter, New York, Easter 2002"

Autographed Rutter Score